27 September 2010

Boys That Read . . .

Grow into men that read. When my two boys were still young, I didn't allow video games in our home. I hated them. I still do. They're mindless distractions and time-wasters. We also did not have a television in our home until our children were older, and even then, only allowed certain movies and programming from PBS. No cable. I still don't have cable. Of course, we screened PBS quite heavily as well. And no network propaganda and garbage dumping into my home via CBS, NBC, ABC. We did, however, have books - lots of books. We also took our children to the library for family night at least once a month. And, whenever on vacation, we always included a visit to a museum, battlefield, or other spot of historical significance. Thus, my boys (and girls) became readers, lovers of history, and critical thinkers.

While you may think my approach extreme, my children now look back and thank me. Not too long ago my youngest son made a point to thank me for not allowing him to play video games. He's amazed at the amount of time still being wasted by his now late-twenty peers. Now comes a piece in the Wall Street Journal written by a publisher, Mr. Thomas Spence, discussing the growing disparity between the reading levels of girls and boys in the typical classroom:

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.

The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time "plugged in" than girls do. 

The WSJ piece expresses further concern over the solution being proposed by some. I would agree with them:

Everyone agrees that if boys don't read well, it's because they don't read enough. But why don't they read? A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the "stuffy" literature they encounter in school. According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must "meet them where they are"—that is, pander to boys' untutored tastes. For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means "books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor." AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to "grossology" parties. "Just get 'em reading," she counsels cheerily. "Worry about what they're reading later."

I believe the problem also comes, at least in part, from the fact that academia has embraced an overall criticism and disdain for what some call "celebratory history." Boys love the heroic, the daring, the adventurous, and the chivalric tales and accounts that abound in much of American history. History which should be celebrated. But hero bashing is the current trendy fad of academia. (Due in large part to academia's own, self-absorbed, delusional obsession with their own importance and superiority to everything and everyone which happened to exist before they were born.) So why would a young person want to read of Washington, Jefferson, et al if they were just all evil slaveowners who established an imperial nation which ruthlessly subjugated the weak and raped the earth by depleting its natural resources?

I recall the old Childhood of Famous Americans series in my elementary school library. These short, narrative style biographies offered up the heroic tales of our Nation's heroes; George Washington, Patrick Henry, Stonewall Jackson, Daniel Boone, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Morgan, Chief Joseph, Robert E. Lee, Robert Fulton and so many others, and cemented in my heart a love of history and of the men who built our Nation. I recall devouring these books in the 4th and 5th grade. By the 6th grade, I'd read all of them that were in the library. These books had a profound impact on me and were one of the ways that I, very early in life, came to love history - and our country. These books also further developed my love of reading.

Education at that time was, in many ways, unified in its purpose and despite the political differences that have always been present, there existed a general consensus that America was great - "exceptional"; as were her heroes. This greatness and the example of her heroes were to be held up to the Nation's youth. As the WSJ piece so wonderfully points out:

Education was once understood as training for freedom. Not merely the transmission of information, education entailed the formation of manners and taste. Aristotle thought we should be raised "so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education."
 The WSJ writer further notes that much of today's educational philosophy . . . 

. . . is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far.

It's simply not politically correct to "celebrate" our history nor promote American Exceptionalism among America's academic elites. That is soooo passe don't you know? It is far more chic to offer self-promoting criticism of American heroes and patriots. That gets you invited to speak an the right conferences. That gets you accepted into the right cliques. That gets you admired by the enemies of American Exceptionalism. But, does it do service to children? Does it serve our Nation well? I think not. The WSJ piece concludes with this:

Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man. Whom would you prefer to have shaped the boyhood imagination of your daughter's husband—Raymond Bean or Robert Louis Stevenson? I offer a final piece of evidence that is perhaps unanswerable: There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls.
The evidence is unanswerable, but not unexplainable. Get rid of the video games and give your boys books that celebrate American heroes. 

You can read the complete WSJ article here.

1 comment:

msimons said...

Great article I agree they need to throw out the games and give them Books. I remember reading that same series of books. My favorite in school as Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales